Tag Archives: William Forsythe

Raising Arizona (1987, Joel Coen)

Halfway through Raising Arizona is this breathtaking chase sequence. Until this point in the film, while there’s been a lot of phenomenal direction, it’s all been brief. Raising Arizona starts in summary, with lead Nicolas Cage narrating, and it doesn’t start slowing down the narrative pace until just before the chase sequence. But then the chase happens and it’s amazing and Arizona seems poised to just keep going with that precise, outrageous filmmaking.

Then it doesn’t. Instead it gets lost in its supporting cast for a while before getting back on track, which is too bad. But there had been warning signs–like the film never really giving Holly Hunter reasonable character motivation, instead letting Cage’s narration–and charm–sell their romance. Though, at the halfway point, it certainly doesn’t seem like Hunter and Cage are going to get the narrative shaft for supporting cast members John Goodman and William Forsythe. Yet they do.

It’s during Goodman and Forsythe’s tedious time in the spotlight one has time to reflect on just how few of its promises the film has fulfilled.

The starting narration is long. Arizona runs about ninety minutes (without end credits) and it’s got a long, narrated opening summary sequence, then the lengthy chase sequence right in the middle. And then a substantial “epilogue” but more wrap-up.

Cage is front and center, literally–he’s getting his mug shot taken–right at the start. Hunter is taking his mug shot. He robs convenience stores (without bullets so it’s not armed robbery). She’s a cop. They fall in love. Without her saying very much. It’s all from Cage’s perspective, which is great. He’s a lovable, well-meaning recidivist. Right from the start, Cage’s performance is amazing. His narration and his regular performance. It’s all amazing.

No one else is amazing. There are some other excellent performances, some quite good ones, no bad ones, but nothing compares to Cage’s. So it’s really too bad the Coen Brothers’ script gives him so little to do in the second half of the film. Better than Hunter, of course, who doesn’t really get to show any personality until the prelude to the chase sequence–and then barely anything the rest of the film. And that epilogue demotes her importance, which she’s sort of been clawing to get.

Cage and Hunter get married. In the narrated summary. Cage has been in and out of prison, but he settles down once they’re married. Hunter wants kids. Only she can’t. It’s not a story arc for her. It’s a plot detail in Cage’s story. Hunter becomes scenery for a while until they hear about some quintuplets and decide to kidnap one. This decision isn’t discussed in any scenes, it’s all covered in Cage’s narration. Because apparently the Coen Brothers couldn’t figure out a way to get Hunter to go from cop to kidnapper in scene.

Cage–and the film–can cover it. It’s shocking how much it can cover, which just makes it even more shocking when it no longer can cover. Even though Goodman and Forsythe give fine performances, it’s stunning how much lost the film gets in the weeds with them.

See, once they kidnap a baby–from unpainted furniture king Trey Wilson (who’s fantastic) and his wife, Lynne Kitei (who gets a scene and a quarter)–Goodman and Forsythe break out of jail and visit old buddy Cage. They need a place to lie low, unaware there’s a bounty hunter (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) after them.

Pretty soon Cobb sees the news about the kidnapped baby and decides to go after it too.

Then there’s a throwaway subplot involving Frances McDormand and Sam McMurray as a couple Hunter wants to be friends with. It’s a contrived, connective subplot, just there to move things around and to be funny. There’s some gorgeous photography from Barry Sonnenfeld during that sequence; the photography’s always good, always great, but the couples picnic sequence is about the only time Sonnenfeld gets to shoot exteriors during the day. It’s also a place where Hunter could get some material.

She doesn’t. Instead, the Coen Brothers focus on McMurray’s dipshit, who’s Cage’s boss; that detail comes out of the blue, since the only person Cage is ever working with is M. Emmet Walsh in a two scene cameo.

Eventually everyone wants the baby. The script uses it as punchline, not actual character motivation. It’s during that weedy period in the runtime when it doesn’t seem like Arizona is ever going to get back on track.

It does, finally, because it puts Cage and Hunter together in scenes and as a team. Despite the film being all about their whirlwind, glorious romance, they don’t get to establish actual chemistry–between the actors, not chemistry created through editing–until the third act. Way too late.

But then there’s this great action showdown in the third act, with a small but excellent chase scene, and director Coen, cinematographer, Sonnenfeld, and editor Michael R. Miller work some magic. Not as magical as the chase sequence, but magic enough to find the movie in the weeds and get it out onto the road again.

There’s some great writing. But most of it is in the first act. Wilson ends up with better scenes than anyone else in the second half. The movie doesn’t just sacrifice Hunter for Goodman and Forsythe, it eventually sacrifices Cage.

Great music from Carter Burwell. The whole thing is technically marvelous. It just doesn’t have anywhere near enough plot for the story it says it’s going to be telling. Even if the Goodman and Forsythe stuff were good, there’s not enough of it.

Raising Arizona has got plenty of problems, but it’s still a fairly thrilling success. You just have to wait through a lot of second half of the second act lag. But the filmmakers do come through. It just doesn’t make any sense why they don’t for a while.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Ethan Coen; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Nicolas Cage (H.I. McDunnough), Holly Hunter (Ed), John Goodman (Gale), William Forsythe (Evelle), Trey Wilson (Nathan Arizona Sr.), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Leonard Smalls), Sam McMurray (Glen), Frances McDormand (Dot), Lynne Kitei (Florence Arizona), and T.J. Kuhn (Nathan Junior).


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Freedomland (2006, Joe Roth)

I didn’t see Freedomland when it came out because I loved the novel and Richard Price adapting the novel or not, the movie’s cast and crew aren’t encouraging it. No movie directed by Joe Roth should inspire confidence, especially not one about racism. Freedomland is about racism. It’s about the really uncomfortable realities of racism. Not racist cops, but racist people. The film opens telling the viewer it takes place in 1999, which when the novel should have been adapted. Possibly even starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in the leads. Possibly with the entire supporting cast intact. But not with Joe Roth directing. Not directing it in Panavision aspect. Not with really slick photography from Anastas N. Michos and awful slick rapid fire editing from Nick Moore. Not with the James Newton Howard occasionally upbeat score. Not with sunny-time super-producer Scott Rudin apparently hunting down a Crash Oscar of his own. Because that Freedomland, this Freedomland, it refuses to call any white characters racist. It refuses to let the racist white cops be racist. It’s particularly mortifying and embarrassing because it’s all post-production neutering. It’s obviously shot Super 35 too, so they even cropped it to this nonsense.

Though someone tried hard to give Jackson as much slack as the frame would allow. Moore’s performance is an unsalvageable train wreck. Roth can’t direct actors, but Freedomland’s cast doesn’t need for direction. They need for some kind of honesty, which just isn’t present in the filmmaking. They need verisimilitude and Roth doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s about a black cop (Jackson) suspecting a white woman (Moore), who works exclusively with black people in the projects–specifically black children–is lying about a black guy kidnapping her son. The point of Freedomland is it can’t be more about race if it tried. And Roth and Rudin reduce the film to a ball-less Hallmark movie. It’s unclear how responsible Price is for it, because some of the responsibility is definitely on him. The post-production can be responsible for the atrocious, offensive editing of a riot scene, but the film gets to that riot scene because of Price’s script, because of how he handles the characters. Freedomland is half-assed filmmaking from people who know better. Even Roth should know better. It’s why he shoots it Super 35, so he doesn’t have to commit to anything while actually directing the actors.

Jackson tries. It’s a good part. It’s a poorly written part in what’s a disastrous film, but it’s a good part. And he does try hard. He does fall into a lot of his acting tropes and he never manages any chemistry with Moore, but it’s an admirable performance.

Edie Falco’s great. It’s embarrassing watching Moore opposite Falco. Her part’s terrible, even just going off the script, but she’s great. While Roth’s direction screws up a lot of the part, Price’s script isn’t there for the character.

Good support from William Forsythe. Moore-levels of train wreck from Ron Eldard as her racist cop brother. He and Moore don’t really have any scenes together, which is good because some kind of singularity would occur if they actually had to act at each other under Roth’s incompetent direction. Aunjanue Ellis’s fine. Lots to do in a lame part. She does what she can. Same goes for Clarke Peters and Anthony Mackie.

LaTonya Richardson Jackson stands out; she gets actual chemistry off Jackson, which no one else in the film gets. It’s hard not to assume its because they’re married off screen.

Freedomland is hard to watch and not for any of the reasons it should be hard to watch. It’s opportunistic, insincere and overproduced. If it were well-acted, well-directed, well-anything, it might be interesting as a failure. Instead, it’s even worth a footnote. Except as one of Jackson’s stronger performances. And as one of Moore’s worst.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Roth; screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel; director of photography, Anastas N. Michos; edited by Nick Moore; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Scott Rudin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Council), Julianne Moore (Brenda), Edie Falco (Karen), William Forsythe (Boyle), Ron Eldard (Danny Martin), Aunjanue Ellis (Felicia), Clarke Peters (Reverend Longway), Anthony Mackie (Billy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Sullivan), Fly Williams III (Rafik), Dorian Missick (Jason) and Peter Friedman (Lt. Gold).


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Out for Justice (1991, John Flynn)

I didn’t hate watching Out of Justice. I didn’t even dislike watching it some of the time. It’s never good, but it’s really dumb and director Flynn knows how to direct a dumb action movie. It feels like it could be a cheap seventies exploitation film–cop hunting gangster on killing spree. Only it’s not exactly cheap. It never looks great, but it never looks cheap. The supporting cast is either familiar character actor types (Jerry Orbach) or solid newcomers (Gina Gershon, Julianna Margulies, Shannon Whirry). It’s professional. It’s a professionally made attempt at trying to convince the viewer Steven Seagal is an Italian-American, Brooklyn native who can kick everyone’s ass and does. It’s not exactly like Steven Seagal’s version of Goodfellas, but it’s closer than not.

Because Seagal wants to act in the film. He tries a lot. He tries so much, so earnestly, he eventually just earns a pass. The ganger on killing spree is William Forsythe. He’s smoking crack and killing almost everyone in sight, he’s a really bad man. Only he’s the worst villain in the entire movie. There’s no character. And Forsythe, in an extremely physical performance, seems asleep at the wheel. He’s not bringing anything to the movie either.

Flynn directs the action scenes rather well. Whenever Seagal gets to do some martial arts, Flynn is careful to showcase them, not just for the theatrical exhibition, but also for the eventual home viewers. Flynn’s ability to fill the frame while keeping it 4:3 safe is significant. Out for Justice is a very professional package. Technically, the film’s nearly completely fine (except the montages). It’s just dumb and inconsequential.

It couldn’t be any better, but it could be a lot worse. And there is a lot of solid acting throughout; not to mention the nostalgia value of familiar faces.

So, like I said, I didn’t dislike the experience of watching Out for Justice. I just didn’t like anything about that experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Flynn; written by David Lee Henry; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Don Brochu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Gene Rudolf; produced by Arnold Kopelson and Steven Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Det. Gino Felino), William Forsythe (Richie Madano), Jerry Orbach (Capt. Ronnie Donziger), Jo Champa (Vicky Felino), Shareen Mitchell (Laurie Lupo), Sal Richards (Frankie), Gina Gershon (Patti Madano), Anthony DeSando (Vinnie Madano), Dominic Chianese (Mr. Madano), Julianna Margulies (Rica), Shannon Whirry (Terry Malloy) and Ronald Maccone (Don Vittorio).


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Virtuosity (1995, Brett Leonard)

Virtuosity, being from the 1990s, is from the era when both Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington didn’t only appear in films directed by the Brothers Scott and Kelly Lynch was still in movies getting theatrical releases. It’s an early CG movie, with lots of computer references and set in the “near future.” It’s incredibly solid, however, for what it is–an action thriller.

Barely anything happens in the film not related to the main plot. There’s no romance between Washington and Lynch–partially, I’m sure, because of Washington’s boycott on interracial romances but also because there’s just no time for it. The movie’s present action is something like forty hours. Enough time to introduce conflict then go through a lot of action to resolve it.

While Washington’s great in the film, it’s a sturdy, leading man great. He’s barely charming here, as Virtuosity is well into his asexual film career (was it Gene Siskel who said he was the only guy who could play James Bond?). Instead it’s Crowe who gets to have all the fun, playing a psychotic virtual reality serial killer or something. It’s mostly about him just being crazy and good at it. It’s maybe not daring, but a lot more than what his acting has become.

Leonard’s a fine director. He can compose shots. It’s the 1990s, there’s a Peter Gabriel song over the end credits.

Unfortunately, the principal supporting cast member–Stephen Spinella–is beyond terrible. Amongst the sturdy character actors, he seriously hinders Virtuosity.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Leonard; written by Eric Bernt; director of photography, Gale Tattersall; edited by B.J. Sears and Rob Kobrin; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Nilo Rodis-Jamero; produced by Gary Lucchesi; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Lt. Parker Barnes), Kelly Lynch (Madison Carter), Russell Crowe (SID 6.7), Stephen Spinella (Lindenmeyer), William Forsythe (William Cochran), Louise Fletcher (Elizabeth Deane), William Fichtner (Wallace), Costas Mandylor (John Donovan) and Kevin J. O’Connor (Clyde Reilly).


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